On Thursday evening at the 2012 NBA Draft, the most heart-warming moment of the night came when the Cleveland Cavaliers, picking for the Dallas Mavericks, selected Air Force veteran Bernard James with the 33rd overall pick. As James slowly walked to the stage, he was given a standing ovation by the crowd, and welcomed with chants of, “USA! USA!”
James, a 27-year-old, 6’10″ center, took a very unusual path to the NBA, but it is one that will make all Americans proud.
Growing up in a military family, James never played basketball as a child. In fact, he never even picked up a basketball until he was fifteen. Even then, however, it didn’t mean much to him as he had his sights set on something much, much larger.
When he was just 17-years-old, James enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Over the next six years, James went on to serve 3 tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar. During this time, he had such responsibilities as guarding thousands of detainees, securing buildings and airplanes, and even serving as military law enforcement.
While in Qatar, he once had a 40-millimeter round land just 90 feet from him, killing six people nearby and wounding many others.
It was also during this time that James became interested in the game of basketball. After being invited to participate in some intramural games, James discovered that he was actually pretty good at it and fell in love with the game.
James decided that, once his military service was over, he wanted to play college ball.
While playing in a US Armed Forces All-Star game in Las Vegas, Florida State Seminoles head-coach Leonard Hamilton was impressed with the center and offered him a scholarship.
During his two years with FSU, James led the team to their first ever appearance in the ACC championship game and two straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.
His senior season, he averaged 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game.
And now, he will play in the NBA, where he has an opportunity to make an immediate impact for the Mavericks.
So often, we tend to look at sports figures as heroes, when in reality, the real heroes are the ones who put themselves in harm’s way and risk their lives for others.
Bernard James is a true hero.